Consumers may be more accepting of whole grains flavor these days, and bakers may be highlighting what makes them different, but that doesn’t mean formulating with these ingredients is a cinch. There are still challenges that persist or become more complex when using more than one whole grain.

“Formulating with whole grains is definitely a challenge because within a certain type of grain there are different characteristics, and those can be anything from flavor to textural properties,” said Kevin Smith, regional technical service lead, Cargill. “When you start blending these together, depending on the application, there are going to be challenges.”

One way to mitigate those challenges, especially when blending whole grains, is to aim for a uniform and standard particle size. This affects the texture of the baked good and helps prevent stratification of the different grains throughout the finished product. It also improves mouthfeel, visual appeal and even flavor.

“A finer granulation will have a more uniform white-brown color whereas sometimes we can get those bran particles that will shine through if the granulation is coarser,” said Tess Brensing, R&D and technical product manager, ADM. “That can serve as the base for the whole grain blend to add on ancient grains or seed ingredients.”

Another challenge is the gluten structure. Even in straightforward whole wheat baking, gluten is often added into the formulation to provide extra strength. Other whole grains, however, can be void of gluten, making them extra weight for a formulation without contributing anything to the strength.

“With the exception of whole wheat flour, which will contribute gluten formation in a finished dough, spelt, rye and barley as well as ancient grains have little or no gluten functionality,” said Ed Reinwald, certified master baker and Ardent Mills technical solutions analyst. “Bakers must strike a balance between adding enough whole grains to produce robust flavors or reach a nutritional goal but not add too much that the dough cannot be properly processed.”

To improve structure and oven spring, bakers can add vital wheat gluten to achieve more consistent loaves. Nicholas Ahrens, senior product applications technologist, Bay State Milling Co. said, however, organic baking adds one more layer of complexity that needs to be accommodated.

“This may be even more challenging in organic baking where identity-preserved supply chains do not have the benefit of blending, which can lead to batch-to-batch inconsistency,” he said. “Partnering with suppliers to identify high-performing organic wheat varieties can help increase quality and consistency from batch to batch, helping minimize dough additives and reduce bowl costs while delivering superior quality.”

Probably the hallmark hurdle of whole grain formulation is the hydration difference between refined flour and whole wheat. The hydration piece must be addressed whether creating a conventional whole wheat loaf of bread or a 21-grain loaf. And this is baked into the very nature of working with the whole grain rather than just the endosperm.

“Unlike refined grains, whole grain ingredients contain the entire kernel, including the bran, germ and endosperm,” said Weston Heide, vice president, trade group, The Andersons, Inc. “Because the bran and germ absorb more moisture than the endosperm, formulators need to adjust the hydration levels in their blends to keep the doughs saturated. While the bran and germ absorb moisture at a higher volume, this absorption occurs at a slower rate, so mixing should be slower and longer than when formulating with refined grains.”

When it comes to using multiple whole grains, bakers must consider the different hydration levels, especially if they are all in flour form.

“The absorption on flours can be really high and make it more challenging, whereas if you have a whole grain piece, your usage rate can be a lot lower,” Ms. Brensing explained. “The piece is still very visible, so you can balance the hydration that way.”

As different flours absorb water in different quantities and rates, the dough rheology can change very quickly.

“What might look like a wet dough at first may be tight and dry five minutes later once the bran and other fibers start to fully hydrate,” Mr. Ahrens said. “Understanding the rheology of the individual flours you are using is key to achieving the right hydration and product quality.”

The hydration headache continues in the oven as well. Bakers must understand not only how much water the flours will absorb but also how much they will release in the oven. Different starches gelatinize and paste at different temperatures as they compete for water in the formulation, Mr. Ahrens explained. This impacts the final product characteristics as it leaves the oven.

“It’s not just about how much water can you put in to make it look like dough but how you make that finished baked product look like it’s supposed to without being burned or raw, gooey or sticky,” Mr. Smith said.

By blending whole grains and working with ingredient suppliers to formulate around challenges, bakers can get interesting textures, flavors and nutritional impacts that will draw consumers in.

“Look more closely at opportunities to include more whole grains in products and some of the newer grains that are available,” said Paula LaBine, marketing director, milling and starch and baking category lead, ADM. “There is quite a lot of evidence to suggest that consumers are seeking these ingredients out.”  

This article is an excerpt from the May 2020 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on whole grains, click here.